By Helen Davies
When I go out paddling, I can’t help but notice that most of the other paddlers are about my age. Well, I say that, I have a 30 year old attitude in a 52 year old body. But I still expect to be ID’d when buying wine in Sainsbury’s and when I do tell people my age, I am mortified when they are not shocked to their very foundation or exclaim ‘no way!’ Way.
I think the meteoric rise in the popularity of paddleboarding over the past few years might be because it suits all ages and abilities. Its health benefits have been written about a lot recently, even making it to the Sunday Telegraph, no less. Lots of famous people are doing it, for instance Bill Bailey and Charley Boardman, who I’m sure won’t mind me saying are middle aged. I once used to see paddlers gliding down the river and think to myself “I would like to do that”… and now I do, and it has changed my life in many ways.
I never really got the bug for golf and tennis, the 2 sports that I associate with longevity, since I see people playing well into their 80s. But paddle-boarding, wrestling into neoprene on occasions aside, seems to offer me a gentle and gentile exercise, fresh air and nature. I can go solo or go with friends. There’s often a picnic, or snack at the very least. It’s very civilised. There may even be a tin of gin on occasions. I’ve always been drawn to the water and grew up in a Welsh coastal town where the boys would surf before school. To me, surfing is for the young, with elastic hamstrings. My idea of ‘popping up’ is when I get up from the sofa too quickly and get a head rush.
All ages can enjoy it; families, couples…. friends who would otherwise struggle to synchronise diaries for lunch suddenly find they can move things around for a ‘board meeting’… As it is weather dependent, I’ll happily sack off the cleaning or shopping in favour of a paddle, and have been known to swap my working days, thanks to very accommodating bosses… I work in the industry so pass it off as a photo opportunity for social media 🙂 I’m sometimes caught out though (when I moan about not having enough hours in the day) by the 15 selfies and 25 shots of the same river I upload to my social media. Oops!
The appeal for me is that sense of calm. I get a huge feeling of all my troubles being left on the shore or the bank of the river, and a feeling of relief when I push away from the shore and onto my paddling adventure. It’s that ‘ah’ moment; like the first sip of a cup of coffee, or glass of wine and getting away from it all. It is MY time, in MY happy place. I sometimes don’t want to get back to the shore or riverbank at all.
I started off wobbly as most do, and my legs would be numb from the knee down from my feet trying to grip the board – as if the pressure of my big toe on the board could stop me tumbling in or doing that comedy walk off the back of the board. I can now turn around to talk to someone or stop paddling to take a photo standing up! Progress indeed! This year, my goal is to try a step-back turn and maybe catch a wave without being unceremoniously deposited in a heap on the shore, like a drunk being ejected from a nightclub. Ursula Andress I am not.
Talking of creatures of the deep, wetsuits are most uncomfortable and unflattering unless you are of supermodel proportions. I wear neoprene leggings and whatever seems right on the top for the weather on the day. In fact, I rarely even wear a swimming costume, needing the scaffolding of a underwired bra. My upper garments span from a neoprene jacket to a t-shirt or hoody, being quietly confident that I’m not going to fall in. However, when my cockiness goes wrong, it goes wrong in style. I recently toppled into a fast flowing river only to land in a low growing tree. The tree thankfully stopped my progress down the river, and I was wedged long enough for my companion to take a photo and then proceed to untangle me. Trying to get back onto the board was a bit of a mission, and my note to self is that maybe a few more pushups and a lot less cakes are needed to ensure that I can get back on the board. My companion, seeing my difficulty, tried to help by pulling me onto the board by the leg, but after slipped disc and sciatica 2 years ago, I was shouting in pain and we gave up on that attempt, falling back into fits of laughter. I did get back on eventually, without the finesse of a seal slithering onto a rock – I don’t think there is any glamorous or elegant way to get back on. But it is all part of the fun, and a tale to tell, not that the dangers of the water should be underestimated.
Paddleboarding is all-over-body exercise, even more so if you fall off, but especially engages the core. As you get older you need to work on your balance, to avoid trips and falls in older age and this is a fun way to do it. Just the struggle of getting the neoprene on, getting the kit in and out of the car is exercise enough, and that’s before pumping the board up. I have to admit, I am pretty lazy and so lacking upper body strength I start heaving and sweating at 8psi. So, I treated myself to an electric pump. It is much more civilised than the grunting and groaning while bending over plus I can get myself paddle ready while the pump is doing the hard work. I have reverted back to the hand pump though, to save the environment and work on my bingo wings.
I started this malarky in September 2020, when life in the world temporarily seemed almost normal. I, on the other hand was far from normal. I had been suffering with a variety of symptoms ranging from anxiety, low mood, hot flushes, night sweats and the delightful unwelcome weight gain from wafting around the house in the lockdown heat in a Kaftan drinking gin at 3pm (once home schooling had finished, of course).
I had a trial go with a friend, followed by a lesson a few weeks later and then I joined a newly-started social group. We connected via Facebook and I was fortunate to be able to borrow boards and try a few different types, before choosing the one for me. During these months towards Christmas 2020, I met new friends and found the time away from home, work and worrying about everything and everyone, to be very healing and confidence-boosting.
I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if there is some medical explanation, someone clever person might know the answer, but I don’t have hot flushes while paddleboarding. These are something that are hard to explain but ladies of a certain age will nod knowingly at how uncomfortable, annoying and inconvenient they are. If you don’t know, its like suddenly being mortally embarrassed but instead of flushed cheeks, it covers your entire body. Its followed by comments such as “gosh, is it me or is it hot in here” while grabbing anything nearby to act as a fan. Only to be quickly followed by ‘has the heating gone off’ and reaching for a ‘nanna’ cardigan.
Maybe it’s the fresh air, the wind in your face or the fact that its exercise so you are sweating anyway, but for me it works as a relief from blowing hot and cold.
Having run out of ideas for gifts for me years ago, my other half, who does not share my passion for paddle boarding, is delighted to have a whole new world of gadgetry to choose from to buy me. I do have enough dry bags now, of varying sizes…. like Russian dolls, one goes inside another, inside another.. its like pass the parcel to find my car keys…but I may want a silent air remover to avoid annoying the local residents of the local village, whose houses I park near just so I can save £3.50 on a carpark fee… I have noticed in the past few months that extra double yellow lines have been painted in that area. I have visions of the residents creeping out at night in their dressing gowns, yellow paint and brushes at the ready. We have become the scourge of the neighbourhood with our sunrise and sunset paddles, inflating and deflating at ungodly hours. I won’t get up at 5am to feed the cat, but I will get up and leave the house in order to bob about on the water on my board to see the sunset on a brand new day. A day full of possibilities, or rather probabilities, of hot flushes, mood swings….. but I will certainly confront them in a much better frame of mind.
So as I said, paddleboarding has changed my life in many ways; new way to exercise, new friends, new job, new me …. see you on the water !